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Last Updated: Monday, 12 December 2005, 15:55 GMT
Putin in surprise Chechen visit
Vladimir Putin (c) with Chechen President Alu Alkhanov (l) and Chechen Deputy PM Ramzan Kadyrov (r)
Vladimir Putin promised to help rebuild Chechnya's war-torn capital
Russian President Vladimir Putin has paid a surprise visit to the Chechen capital Grozny to attend the opening of the new parliament elected last month.

Addressing parliament, Mr Putin praised the "landmark" elections and pledged to help rebuild the city. He also urged the authorities to act on kidnappings.

As prime minister, Mr Putin sent in troops in 1999 to restore Russian rule in the breakaway republic.

Violence continues between Chechen separatists and Russian forces.

Parliamentary elections in the war-torn province took place on 27 November, with the pro-Kremlin United Russia party winning the majority of the vote.

'Difficult process'

Mr Putin, who was protected by heavy security, spent about 40 minutes at the parliament before flying off by helicopter.

"I thank all those who took part in these elections, and in the whole difficult peace process," he said, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.

The president's helicopter outside the Chechen parliament in Grozny
Mr Putin spent about 40 minutes in Grozny before leaving by helicopter

He said the time had come to start restoring war-torn Grozny and to resolve its social and economic problems.

The president attacked Muslim insurgents active in Chechnya, saying that "Russia has always been the most faithful, reliable and consistent defender of the Islamic world's interests".

Mr Putin also called on the authorities to do more to combat kidnappings.

"Find and punish whoever is breaking the law, regardless of who this might be or what agencies they represent," he said.

Nearly 1,700 people have been abducted and remain missing in Chechnya, according to a regional government committee quoted by the Associated Press news agency.

Human rights groups have accused Russian troops stationed in the southern republic and pro-Moscow Chechen forces of committing abductions and summary executions.

Moscow denies the accusations, blaming Chechen rebels for the continuing violence.




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